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The Confessions of Saint Augustine- Etext

The Confessions of Saint Augustine- Etext

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I will now call to mind my past foulness, and the carnal corruptions of my soul; not
because I love them, but that I may love Thee, O my God. For love of Thy love I do
it; reviewing my most wicked ways in the very bitterness of my remembrance, that
Thou mayest grow sweet unto me (Thou sweetness never failing, Thou blissful and
assured sweetness); and gathering me again out of that my dissipation, wherein I was
torn piecemeal, while turned from Thee, the One Good, I lost myself among a
multiplicity of things. For I even burnt in my youth heretofore, to be satiated in things
below; and I dared to grow wild again, with these various and shadowy loves: my
beauty consumed away, and I stank in Thine eyes; pleasing myself, and desirous to
please in the eyes of men.

And what was it that I delighted in, but to love, and be loved? but I kept not the
measure of love, of mind to mind, friendship's bright boundary: but out of the muddy
concupiscence of the flesh, and the bubblings of youth, mists fumed up which
beclouded and overcast my heart, that I could not discern the clear brightness of love
from the fog of lustfulness. Both did confusedly boil in me, and hurried my unstayed
youth over the precipice of unholy desires, and sunk me in a gulf of flagitiousnesses.
Thy wrath had gathered over me, and I knew it not. I was grown deaf by the clanking
of the chain of my mortality, the punishment of the pride of my soul, and I strayed
further from Thee, and Thou lettest me alone, and I was tossed about, and wasted, and
dissipated, and I boiled over in my fornications, and Thou heldest Thy peace, O Thou
my tardy joy! Thou then heldest Thy peace, and I wandered further and further from
Thee, into more and more fruitless seed-plots of sorrows, with a proud dejectedness,
and a restless weariness.

Oh! that some one had then attempered my disorder, and turned to account the
fleeting beauties of these, the extreme points of Thy creation! had put a bound to their
pleasureableness, that so the tides of my youth might have cast themselves upon the
marriage shore, if they could not be calmed, and kept within the object of a family, as
Thy law prescribes, O Lord: who this way formest the offspring of this our death,
being able with a gentle hand to blunt the thorns which were excluded from Thy
paradise? For Thy omnipotency is not far from us, even when we be far from Thee.
Else ought I more watchfully to have heeded the voice from the clouds: Nevertheless
such shall have trouble in the flesh, but I spare you. And it is good for a man not to
touch a woman. And, he that is unmarried thinketh of the things of the Lord, how he
may please the Lord; but he that is married careth for the things of this world, how he
may please his wife.

To these words I should have listened more attentively, and being severed for the
kingdom of heaven's sake, had more happily awaited Thy embraces; but I, poor
wretch, foamed like a troubled sea, following the rushing of my own tide, forsaking
Thee, and exceeded all Thy limits; yet I escaped not Thy scourges. For what mortal
can? For Thou wert ever with me mercifully rigorous, and besprinkling with most
bitter alloy all my unlawful pleasures: that I might seek pleasures without alloy. But
where to find such, I could not discover, save in Thee, O Lord, who teachest by
sorrow, and woundest us, to heal; and killest us, lest we die from Thee. Where was I,

Book II

and how far was I exiled from the delights of Thy house, in that sixteenth year of the
age of my flesh, when the madness of lust (to which human shamelessness giveth free
licence, though unlicensed by Thy laws) took the rule over me, and I resigned myself
wholly to it? My friends meanwhile took no care by marriage to save my fall; their
only care was that I should learn to speak excellently, and be a persuasive orator.

For that year were my studies intermitted: whilst after my return from Madaura (a
neighbour city, whither I had journeyed to learn grammar and rhetoric), the expenses
for a further journey to Carthage were being provided for me; and that rather by the
resolution than the means of my father, who was but a poor freeman of Thagaste. To
whom tell I this? not to Thee, my God; but before Thee to mine own kind, even to that
small portion of mankind as may light upon these writings of mine. And to what
purpose? that whosoever reads this, may think out of what depths we are to cry unto
Thee. For what is nearer to Thine ears than a confessing heart, and a life of faith?
Who did not extol my father, for that beyond the ability of his means, he would
furnish his son with all necessaries for a far journey for his studies' sake? For many
far abler citizens did no such thing for their children. But yet this same father had no
concern how I grew towards Thee, or how chaste I were; so that I were but copious in
speech, however barren I were to Thy culture, O God, who art the only true and good
Lord of Thy field, my heart.

But while in that my sixteenth year I lived with my parents, leaving all school for a
while (a season of idleness being interposed through the narrowness of my parents'
fortunes), the briers of unclean desires grew rank over my head, and there was no
hand to root them out. When that my father saw me at the baths, now growing
towards manhood, and endued with a restless youthfulness, he, as already hence
anticipating his descendants, gladly told it to my mother; rejoicing in that tumult of
the senses wherein the world forgetteth Thee its Creator, and becometh enamoured of
Thy creature, instead of Thyself, through the fumes of that invisible wine of its self-
will, turning aside and bowing down to the very basest things. But in my mother's
breast Thou hadst already begun Thy temple, and the foundation of Thy holy
habitation, whereas my father was as yet but a Catechumen, and that but recently. She
then was startled with a holy fear and trembling; and though I was not as yet baptised,
feared for me those crooked ways in which they walk who turn their back to Thee,
and not their face.

Woe is me! and dare I say that Thou heldest Thy peace, O my God, while I wandered
further from Thee? Didst Thou then indeed hold Thy peace to me? And whose but
Thine were these words which by my mother, Thy faithful one, Thou sangest in my
ears? Nothing whereof sunk into my heart, so as to do it. For she wished, and I
remember in private with great anxiety warned me, "not to commit fornication; but
especially never to defile another man's wife." These seemed to me womanish
advices, which I should blush to obey. But they were Thine, and I knew it not: and I
thought Thou wert silent and that it was she who spake; by whom Thou wert not silent
unto me; and in her wast despised by me, her son, the son of Thy handmaid, Thy
servant. But I knew it not; and ran headlong with such blindness, that amongst my
equals I was ashamed of a less shamelessness, when I heard them boast of their
flagitiousness, yea, and the more boasting, the more they were degraded: and I took
pleasure, not only in the pleasure of the deed, but in the praise. What is worthy of
dispraise but vice? But I made myself worse than I was, that I might not be dispraised;

Book II

and when in any thing I had not sinned as the abandoned ones, I would say that I had
done what I had not done, that I might not seem contemptible in proportion as I was
innocent; or of less account, the more chaste.

Behold with what companions I walked the streets of Babylon, and wallowed in the
mire thereof, as if in a bed of spices and precious ointments. And that I might cleave
the faster to its very centre, the invisible enemy trod me down, and seduced me, for
that I was easy to be seduced. Neither did the mother of my flesh (who had now fled
out of the centre of Babylon, yet went more slowly in the skirts thereof as she advised
me to chastity, so heed what she had heard of me from her husband, as to restrain
within the bounds of conjugal affection (if it could not be pared away to the quick)
what she felt to be pestilent at present and for the future dangerous. She heeded not
this, for she feared lest a wife should prove a clog and hindrance to my hopes. Not
those hopes of the world to come, which my mother reposed in Thee; but the hope of
learning, which both my parents were too desirous I should attain; my father, because
he had next to no thought of Thee, and of me but vain conceits; my mother, because
she accounted that those usual courses of learning would not only be no hindrance,
but even some furtherance towards attaining Thee. For thus I conjecture, recalling, as
well as I may, the disposition of my parents. The reins, meantime, were slackened to
me, beyond all temper of due severity, to spend my time in sport, yea, even unto
dissoluteness in whatsoever I affected. And in all was a mist, intercepting from me, O
my God, the brightness of Thy truth; and mine iniquity burst out as from very fatness.

Theft is punished by Thy law, O Lord, and the law written in the hearts of men, which
iniquity itself effaces not. For what thief will abide a thief? not even a rich thief, one
stealing through want. Yet I lusted to thieve, and did it, compelled by no hunger, nor
poverty, but through a cloyedness of well-doing, and a pamperedness of iniquity. For
I stole that, of which I had enough, and much better. Nor cared I to enjoy what I stole,
but joyed in the theft and sin itself. A pear tree there was near our vineyard, laden
with fruit, tempting neither for colour nor taste. To shake and rob this, some lewd
young fellows of us went, late one night (having according to our pestilent custom
prolonged our sports in the streets till then), and took huge loads, not for our eating,
but to fling to the very hogs, having only tasted them. And this, but to do what we
liked only, because it was misliked. Behold my heart, O God, behold my heart, which
Thou hadst pity upon in the bottom of the bottomless pit. Now, behold, let my heart
tell Thee what it sought there, that I should be gratuitously evil, having no temptation
to ill, but the ill itself. It was foul, and I loved it; I loved to perish, I loved mine own
fault, not that for which I was faulty, but my fault itself. Foul soul, falling from Thy
firmament to utter destruction; not seeking aught through the shame, but the shame

For there is an attractiveness in beautiful bodies, in gold and silver, and all things; and
in bodily touch, sympathy hath much influence, and each other sense hath his proper
object answerably tempered. Wordly honour hath also its grace, and the power of
overcoming, and of mastery; whence springs also the thirst of revenge. But yet, to
obtain all these, we may not depart from Thee, O Lord, nor decline from Thy law. The
life also which here we live hath its own enchantment, through a certain proportion of
its own, and a correspondence with all things beautiful here below. Human friendship
also is endeared with a sweet tie, by reason of the unity formed of many souls. Upon
occasion of all these, and the like, is sin committed, while through an immoderate

Book II

inclination towards these goods of the lowest order, the better and higher are
forsaken,- Thou, our Lord God, Thy truth, and Thy law. For these lower things have
their delights, but not like my God, who made all things; for in Him doth the righteous
delight, and He is the joy of the upright in heart.

When, then, we ask why a crime was done, we believe it not, unless it appear that
there might have been some desire of obtaining some of those which we called lower
goods, or a fear of losing them. For they are beautiful and comely; although compared
with those higher and beatific goods, they be abject and low. A man hath murdered
another; why? he loved his wife or his estate; or would rob for his own livelihood; or
feared to lose some such things by him; or, wronged, was on fire to be revenged.
Would any commit murder upon no cause, delighted simply in murdering? who
would believe it? for as for that furious and savage man, of whom it is said that he
was gratuitously evil and cruel, yet is the cause assigned; "lest" (saith he) "through
idleness hand or heart should grow inactive." And to what end? that, through that
practice of guilt, he might, having taken the city, attain to honours, empire, riches, and
be freed from fear of the laws, and his embarrassments from domestic needs, and
consciousness of villainies. So then, not even Catiline himself loved his own
villainies, but something else, for whose sake he did them.

What then did wretched I so love in thee, thou theft of mine, thou deed of darkness, in
that sixteenth year of my age? Lovely thou wert not, because thou wert theft. But art
thou any thing, that thus I speak to thee? Fair were the pears we stole, because they
were Thy creation, Thou fairest of all, Creator of all, Thou good God; God, the
sovereign good and my true good. Fair were those pears, but not them did my
wretched soul desire; for I had store of better, and those I gathered, only that I might
steal. For, when gathered, I flung them away, my only feast therein being my own sin,
which I was pleased to enjoy. For if aught of those pears came within my mouth, what
sweetened it was the sin. And now, O Lord my God, I enquire what in that theft
delighted me; and behold it hath no loveliness; I mean not such loveliness as in justice
and wisdom; nor such as is in the mind and memory, and senses, and animal life of
man; nor yet as the stars are glorious and beautiful in their orbs; or the earth, or sea,
full of embryo-life, replacing by its birth that which decayeth; nay, nor even that false
and shadowy beauty which belongeth to deceiving vices.

For so doth pride imitate exaltedness; whereas Thou alone art God exalted over all.
Ambition, what seeks it, but honours and glory? whereas Thou alone art to be
honoured above all, and glorious for evermore. The cruelty of the great would fain be
feared; but who is to be feared but God alone, out of whose power what can be
wrested or withdrawn? when, or where, or whither, or by whom? The tendernesses of
the wanton would fain be counted love: yet is nothing more tender than Thy charity;
nor is aught loved more healthfully than that Thy truth, bright and beautiful above all.
Curiosity makes semblance of a desire of knowledge; whereas Thou supremely
knowest all. Yea, ignorance and foolishness itself is cloaked under the name of
simplicity and uninjuriousness; because nothing is found more single than Thee: and
what less injurious, since they are his own works which injure the sinner? Yea, sloth
would fain be at rest; but what stable rest besides the Lord? Luxury affects to be
called plenty and abundance; but Thou art the fulness and never-failing plenteousness
of incorruptible pleasures. Prodigality presents a shadow of liberality: but Thou art the
most overflowing Giver of all good. Covetousness would possess many things; and

Book II

Thou possessest all things. Envy disputes for excellency: what more excellent than
Thou? Anger seeks revenge: who revenges more justly than Thou? Fear startles at
things unwonted and sudden, which endangers things beloved, and takes forethought
for their safety; but to Thee what unwonted or sudden, or who separateth from Thee
what Thou lovest? Or where but with Thee is unshaken safety? Grief pines away for
things lost, the delight of its desires; because it would have nothing taken from it, as
nothing can from Thee.

Thus doth the soul commit fornication, when she turns from Thee, seeking without
Thee, what she findeth not pure and untainted, till she returns to Thee. Thus all
pervertedly imitate Thee, who remove far from Thee, and lift themselves up against
Thee. But even by thus imitating Thee, they imply Thee to be the Creator of all
nature; whence there is no place whither altogether to retire from Thee. What then did
I love in that theft? and wherein did I even corruptly and pervertedly imitate my
Lord? Did I wish even by stealth to do contrary to Thy law, because by power I could
not, so that being a prisoner, I might mimic a maimed liberty by doing with impunity
things unpermitted me, a darkened likeness of Thy Omnipotency? Behold, Thy
servant, fleeing from his Lord, and obtaining a shadow. O rottenness, O
monstrousness of life, and depth of death! could I like what I might not, only because
I might not?

What shall I render unto the Lord, that, whilst my memory recalls these things, my
soul is not affrighted at them? I will love Thee, O Lord, and thank Thee, and confess
unto Thy name; because Thou hast forgiven me these so great and heinous deeds of
mine. To Thy grace I ascribe it, and to Thy mercy, that Thou hast melted away my
sins as it were ice. To Thy grace I ascribe also whatsoever I have not done of evil; for
what might I not have done, who even loved a sin for its own sake? Yea, all I confess
to have been forgiven me; both what evils I committed by my own wilfulness, and
what by Thy guidance I committed not. What man is he, who, weighing his own
infirmity, dares to ascribe his purity and innocency to his own strength; that so he
should love Thee the less, as if he had less needed Thy mercy, whereby Thou
remittest sins to those that turn to Thee? For whosoever, called by Thee, followed Thy
voice, and avoided those things which he reads me recalling and confessing of myself,
let him not scorn me, who being sick, was cured by that Physician, through whose aid
it was that he was not, or rather was less, sick: and for this let him love Thee as much,
yea and more; since by whom he sees me to have been recovered from such deep
consumption of sin, by Him he sees himself to have been from the like consumption
of sin preserved.

What fruit had I then (wretched man!) in those things, of the remembrance whereof I
am now ashamed? Especially, in that theft which I loved for the theft's sake; and it too
was nothing, and therefore the more miserable I, who loved it. Yet alone I had not
done it: such was I then, I remember, alone I had never done it. I loved then in it also
the company of the accomplices, with whom I did it? I did not then love nothing else
but the theft, yea rather I did love nothing else; for that circumstance of the company
was also nothing. What is, in truth? who can teach me, save He that enlighteneth my
heart, and discovereth its dark corners? What is it which hath come into my mind to
enquire, and discuss, and consider? For had I then loved the pears I stole, and wished
to enjoy them, I might have done it alone, had the bare commission of the theft
sufficed to attain my pleasure; nor needed I have inflamed the itching of my desires

Book II

by the excitement of accomplices. But since my pleasure was not in those pears, it
was in the offence itself, which the company of fellow-sinners occasioned.

What then was this feeling? For of a truth it was too foul: and woe was me, who had
it. But yet what was it? Who can understand his errors? It was the sport, which as it
were tickled our hearts, that we beguiled those who little thought what we were doing,
and much disliked it. Why then was my delight of such sort that I did it not alone?
Because none doth ordinarily laugh alone? ordinarily no one; yet laughter sometimes
masters men alone and singly when on one whatever is with them, if anything very
ludicrous presents itself to their senses or mind. Yet I had not done this alone; alone I
had never done it. Behold my God, before Thee, the vivid remembrance of my soul;
alone, I had never committed that theft wherein what I stole pleased me not, but that I
stole; nor had it alone liked me to do it, nor had I done it. O friendship too unfriendly!
thou incomprehensible inveigler of the soul, thou greediness to do mischief out of
mirth and wantonness, thou thirst of others' loss, without lust of my own gain or
revenge: but when it is said, "Let's go, let's do it," we are ashamed not to be

Who can disentangle that twisted and intricate knottiness? Foul is it: I hate to think on
it, to look on it. But Thee I long for, O Righteousness and Innocency, beautiful and
comely to all pure eyes, and of a satisfaction unsating. With Thee is rest entire, and
life imperturbable. Whoso enters into Thee, enters into the joy of his Lord: and shall
not fear, and shall do excellently in the All-Excellent. I sank away from Thee, and I
wandered, O my God, too much astray from Thee my stay, in these days of my youth,
and I became to myself a barren land.

Book III

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